Cold Feet

With each step of my bare feet, the cold, course, sand exfoliated that anxiety.

With each step of my bare feet, the cold, course, sand exfoliated that anxiety.

Sunday morning, not sunny, or even white. A muddy grey haze hung over the valley.

After a fifty-hour work week, that day marked the first of a five-day break. My body ached. I was still tired. The thoughts swirled. My anxiety peaked. I wanted to be lazy. Being lonely is easy. That obligation to use my freedom appeared. I took the leap.

I called that hostel in Moab which was advertised for $12/night. The reviews weren’t bad, and the guy who answered “Lazy Lizard” sounded like an old western character, when I called to check availability. In fact, it was the way he answered with “oh yeah, just come on by when you get to town” that most intrigued me.

In a panic, I packed, as the motivation waned steadily, threatening a victory for the excuses, a ticket to be lazy. My suitemate caught me in the kitchen, I had to regroup after a twenty-minute conversation.

“Camera, film, trail shoes, notebook” I ran through the essentials in my head. Nearly out the door, I saw my snowboard leaning up against the wall. “Shit, should I bring it?” In a heightened state of anxiety, this proved to be quite the decision. “What if I decide to go on to Park City” Or, if I hit Vail or Beaver Creek?” “What if it gets stolen” “Do you really want the liability?”

I wasted fifteen minutes contemplating. Another hurdle tried to derail the journey. I slid the board in the trunk and hit the road. It was 12:33.

Thin streaks of silver sun highlighted rows of white waves which splashed against the frozen shores, as I drove past Dillon Lake. I wanted to stop and take a photo, but the resistance had not yet been escaped.

Like globs of marshmallow goo, to a campfire stick, the trees around Vail pass were completely caked. Again, my desire to shoot ached. But I had to keep going. Resistance was just around the corner.

Out onto the western slope, the rocks turned red, and the sky turned blue, pink, purple, and orange. My thoughts became clearer. Stuck on the surface all week, I began to elaborate. A beautiful drive. A time to think. I exited for “Moab” around 5pm, just as the sun began to sink.

The town seemed quiet, much like it was in February. I drove past that place where my father and I stayed. That robotic British GPS voice told me to “turn left” at the end of Main Street.

Behind a complex of storage units, I followed the sign that said, “Lazy Lizard Parking”. Then, next to a row of trailers, the place appeared. It looked a bit bleak. I sat outside with my car running. The place seemed empty.

The door creaked. A warm wooden air welcomed from the iron chimney. A wooden entry, a kitchen, decently clean, a small dining area, connected to a room with seating. An extensive bookshelf. A homeless man, who shook my hand. I overheard the guys at the front desk talking about him as “the crazy guy with PTSD”.

I opted for the private room for $24. Dropped my bags upstairs, then rushed out the door toward the brewery.

A piping hot bowl of veggie chillie ($5). A pint of nut brown ($2.75). Desert was a stout ($2.75). $10.50 was the total. I scribbled in some notes.

I returned to the hostel around 7:30. I was tempted to go to bed, but I had to check out the social scene.  

I found that photo book called “France”. Then sunk into a seat on the vacant sofa. At one table, a normal looking guy, probably late twenties, wearing a loose flannel, some casual khakis, and flip flops on his feet, sat, sipping soup. The Native American guy who appeared to work there, chatted with him from a desk with a computer screen. I opened the book, with one headphone in, but I was listening.

A girl joined in, but I couldn’t see her face, it hid behind the desk with screens. She and the flannel guy began a conversation. They talked about what brought them to Moab. She was originally from Salt-Lake, and was now traveling the Southwest, looking for a place to settle down, after spending three years in Hawaii. She said she’d gone there for a graduate program in “Chinese Medicine” after vowing to never spend more money on school following what she perceived to be a usual undergraduate degree.

This struck a chord with me. I turned another page of the book called “France”. Another reminder.

The guy talked a bit about his story. “I’m originally from Albuquerque, but I keep coming back to Moab it seems.” “I just like the vibe.” He said. Then, talked about his decisions to live debt free. “Sometimes I don’t have much money, and that means I have to rough it, but that’s okay with me.”

The homeless guy chimed in at random variations. I flipped through the book hurriedly, then snuck up to that back room to sleep.

There was a stain on the mattress. I could see it through the sheet. All night I clung to the edge of the bed, freezing, but still too disgusted to let the linens touch me. All the while, listening for my car alarm to scream, because of that damn snowboard gear that I’d decided to bring. At the first sign of light, I shot out of that bed of springs.

Downstairs, I fried three eggs, and sautéed ¾ of a bag of spinach. It didn’t taste great, but I needed the nutrition for the day.

“I wish I could hike, but my legs are too bad” The homeless guy told me, as I scraped the frost from me car. I was relieved to leave. I coasted through town and exited for the park.

That familiar grand entrance, it felt like I’d just left. Instead of paying $30 for a one-time pass, I splurged, and spent $80 on an annual pass. An investment for the next year.

Around those paved switchbacks, that carve up that red cliff. Through that turn with the big reveal of the park. I drove out to Delicate arch. We’d skipped it last time.

A red world, without vegetation. Roaming the desert in the morning. Without people, or sounds. It was truly sublime. The hike was about four miles. I returned to the car for more.

I did the “Devil’s Garden trail” A five-mile loop I’d done with my dad. Through several arches, and a loosely marked trail, it offered endless opportunities to explore.

On a smooth slab of rock, I stopped, and stretched. I listened to the silence. I breathed the gentle wind. Across the desert plains, with no one at all in sight. Completely unchanged, that valley without time.

The clouds rolled in. I turned down the “primitive road”. Through what seemed to be an old creek bed, I drove without direction. Nothing to question. The sun was setting. I wasn’t ready to leave.

I took a right out of the park. Started down that road back home. Climbed that first big hill. But I really didn’t want to go. “Will I regret leaving? Maybe” “Will I regret spending a little more money? No.”

I spun the car around and drove back into town. I saw a motel with a cheap rate advertised on the street. Stopped in. Got a room for $49.

It was actually quite nice. I Got some food (junk), then returned to the room. I Watched live television, from a king bed, a treat. Then, went to sleep.

I woke up around 7:30. Loaded the car. Ate. I didn’t want to waste any time. I was determined to create another day great. I flashed my pass and raced through the gate. With fresh air in my tires, the ride was smooth. I put my car in “sport” and manually toggled through the gears and listened to the boost.

At “Courthouse Towers”, the first lot on the left, I had the choice of every spot. Completely empty, I navigated a set of icy steps, and entered the Martian chapel. Daunting alien figures lurked in the stone, casting dark shadows onto the dried-up stream. I kept walking. It amazed me how quickly the view changed.

On a floor of smooth granite, I dropped my pack. On the edge of light, I stretched, and let the sun soak in. On a patch of untouched sand, I shed my shoes. Through my toes, the frigid sand seeped. Exfoliating that inescapable anxiety. Soothing my cold feet.  

I filed back through the pews. Raced a few more corners. Hit the road. Through those yellow fields and back toward the pink wall of the western slope. Through a frosted forest, I returned to the land of snow capped peaks, just as dark blue became purple. Again, my pen leaks.

Film to follow

The scenic route

Against a waning sun, we rode across the line. Out the rear window I stared, at the dimly lit silhouette of my home of the last three months. Under a planetarium of stars, the truck turned left, “Moab 50 miles”.

Out a hotel window I caught my first glimpse of the Martian esc landscape, as a hazy red sun crept above the crimson rocks. Expecting a line at the gate, we drove right through; not even an attendant stood by. In a vacant visitor’s center lot, I found myself drawn slowly toward a wall of rock, pulling me closer, until it filled my horizon. I hovered there, just for a moment, completely engulfed by the magnitude of it all.

On the side of a cliff, we wound our way up. Moab in a distant valley below, and Arches national park right in front. Out my window the sun crept higher, spreading its warmth evenly across the yellow grass plains and the many red walls which sprouted spontaneously from them.

At the end of the road, we grabbed our bags, and set out on foot against a hearty breeze. Through narrow canyons and on top of boulders, we squeezed and wedged our way all over the park. Far from any trail, or any people, our tracks met those of what appeared to be a predatory cat.

An endless vista of sandy plains to my right, and a wall of remaining rock to my left, I trekked on in this valley of time. Lost in the sound of the wind, a horde of bison roared across the plains, with a tribe of Ute natives in close pursuit.

In a secluded canyon, I ran my hands across the cool course rock, slowly advancing the transformation process as I walked barefoot slowly through it’s soothing wake. Up into a deep blue sky I lost track of time, as a hawk swirled around in the infinite air.

Through a desolate canyon, we carefully climbed, throwing chunks of red sandstone into the seemingly bottomless pit. In a narrow corridor, we somehow got passed, by a vintage jeep and a driver who showed no regard for the ledge. At the top of the road we took in the view. The endless sea of red rock. The daunting depth of the canyons. The towering snow-covered peaks on their fringe.

Perched in an arch, I watched the sky erupt in an aura borealis like sea of pastel blues and pinks. And as the colors faded into a blanket of stars, I thought about how amazing it is to experience the west. To feel the course texture of the arches with your very own hands. To wander into the desert with no time or no map. To make your own path, and to live your own experience. And to realize that even after all these years, the west is still wild.

Two days later I sat in my bedroom, frantically unpacking, and then packing again. On the cusp of an international move, our little detour cost me two days of preparation time, but as I now sit here at my desk in Korea, I so fondly remember that time we took the scenic route.

Travel by Train

Something about roughing it on a train across the various landscapes of the largely still vacant American West felt like a trip through time. No, the trip wasn’t glamorous, far from it, but in a way, that only added to it’s authenticity.

For three whole days I dreamt of a hot shower and a comfortable bed, as our iron horse pressed on, often at speeds not much faster than those of an actual steed.

For hours at a time we saw no cars, no houses, nor roads. No people, no animals, just raw, untouched land.

With no internet connection, or screens to watch, I stared constantly, at the ever changing contents of my window. For hundreds of miles we followed the Colorado River west, as its glacial blue waters roared through deep maroon canyons, resisting the urge to solidify like the icy cliffs surrounding it. Into the eastern frontier of Utah we churned, as the winter sun erupted into a mural of pastel blues, pinks, purples, and oranges, then black.

Through a frigid night I clenched my bag tightly against my chest in fear that at one of the many stops we made in the middle of nowhere, some struggling passersby would snatch my camera gear and disappear into the darkness as I continued on.

I watched night turn to morning, as the sun’s first rays revealed the lunar esque landscape of a Northern Nevada desert. Out of salt flats sprouted more mountains. Through towns named Truckee, and Weed, past Mt. Shasta, and The Great Salt Lake.

In the warmth of the evening Sierra Nevada sun, we winded through clusters of oranges and reds, and down into a valley. Lost in the thick of the Deschutes Forest, I shared a hot meal in the dining car with a complete stranger dressed in lumberjack attire as the snow piled heavy on the shaggy pines outside. Together I sat with a girl from Mexico, who barely understood a word I said, silently sharing an admiration for all that went by. Then finally, after three days and two nights, the white lights of the Seattle skyline poured into view.

Unlike more modern forms of travel such as by air, or even by car, the unique experience of train travel is one that transcends time. It isn’t the most glamorous, the most comfortable, or the most efficient, but boy is it worth it. Because for all of its downfalls, there really is no better way to appreciate the wild makeup of our nation.

For months since my late January journey by train, I’ve attempted to piece together the video footage I captured in some meaningful way, but no matter how I approach it, I just can’t seem seem to do it justice.

So if you truly want to understand this journey, I suggest you do it yourself. Book a ticket, take a chance, have an experience.

Totality

Imprinted by the universe 

A left through sunflowers. A right through grasslands. Past a mint old pickup jockeyed by a wide grinned farmer. A trail of dust behind us, as we went.  

They said half a million people would be there, but we saw no one for miles. A fork in the road, a hill at our backs. We stopped there.  

The warm sand seeped into my shoes as I churned my way up, lifted by the growing breeze. Five stories high, infinitely more overhead.  

Like the eye of our solar system, the sun became a pupil, dilated heavily, as it absorbed the light. The ceiling went first, and then the horizon, as a soft blue melted into a pastel painting of Neapolitan delight. 

Out of a sea of grass, a tsunami grew. And as the giant inhaled, the air went too. No north, no south, no east, no west. Just here. 

Minutes took hours, and seasons went. All the while, no one blinked. Imprinted by the universe.  

 

Totality 

Sceptics will say they didn't miss much, and over enthusiasts will tell you that it changed their lives. But I'm here to tell you the truth. Seeing a total solar eclipse is humbling, it's captivating, and it’s impossible to fully articulate. But so is life, the amazing planet that will live on, and the universe that we live in. The very experiences that we have, and the people that we share them with.  

It'll be 18 months until the next solar eclipse, and thousands before it returns to this same spot, if that day ever comes. But life is constant. The sun rises and sets each and every day, yet how often do you look? Unfortunate events, shitty jobs, bad relationships, and a litany of other distractions can cloud our view without us knowing. But no matter how bad things get, life is still beautiful. 

So, would I recommend seeing a total solar eclipse? Absolutely I would. In fact, I've already got plans to see the next national one as it cuts through my home state of Texas in 2024. But in the meantime, the 2,415 days, the 57,960 hours, the 3,477,600 minutes, until then, I'll remain captivated. By life.  

 

42°12'14.3"N 102°38'40.0"W  

*for best experience, pair with "Take Care" by Tom Rosenthal*